Drop D vs Drop C – What’s The Difference?

By Richard •  Updated: 01/31/22 •  6 min read

A lot of metal bands use Drop D or Drop C tunings. But what is the difference between Drop D vs Drop C tuning on the guitar? Let’s investigate…


The popularity of alternate tunings like Drop D and Drop C has grown massively since the early 2000s. The rise of Nu Metal in the late-1990s and early-2000s helped to popularise lower tunings with aspiring guitar players.

Drop tunings – like Drop D – make your guitar’s tuning lower (obviously) and this, in turn, makes the overall tone sound heavier which is why it is used predominantly by metal and rock bands. With Drop D, your lowest string is tuned down a whole step from E to D. The rest of the strings remain the same as normal.

Drop D Tuning

With Drop D tuning, you lower the bottom string down a whole step, so you go from EADGEB to DADGBE. This change makes your guitar sound lower overall and it makes playing power chords A LOT easier, as you can now play them with just one finger which makes playing faster riffs easier. This is why bands like Lamb of God use Drop D and Drop C.

Drop D vs Drop C – What’s The Difference?
How To Play Powerchords In Drop D vs Standard Tuning

Other bands that use Drop D tuning include the Melvins and TOOL. Early Deftones from the Around The Fur era was tuned down to Drop D# – so, down a step and a half – although it still sounds fine when turned to Drop D.

In addition to this, you can now play a D chord using ALL six strings on your guitar, as the bottom string is tuned down from E to D. This gives it a much fuller sound. And it works on ALL variations for D chords too, from major to minor and SUS chords.

The main reason guitarists tune down to Drop D, however, is that it makes playing power chords easier. In standard tuning, you have to use two fingers to play a power chord. In Drop D tuning (and Drop C), you play power chords with just one finger, fretting the top two or three stings. You can also add in additional notes by utilizing barre chords too.

Drop C Tuning

We’ve covered Drop D tuning, but what about Drop C tuning? As the name suggests, Drop C tuning is a whole step lower than Drop D tuning. But in order to set up your guitar for Drop C tuning, you have to tune down ALL the strings on your guitar, whereas with Drop D you’re only tuning down the bottom (fattest) string.

In order to tune down to Drop C, you need to first tune your guitar to D Standard tuning (DGCFAD) and then drop the bottom string down another whole step to C which gives you the following tuning: CGCFAD.

strings for drop C

Drop C tuning sounds darker and heavier than Drop D tuning, so if you’re going for a particularly heavy sound, Drop C tuning could be just the tone you’ve been looking for. It will also be nice and low for your singer as well, so there’s less straining for them on the higher notes. Plenty of bands use Drop C tuning these days, including Lamb of God, High on Fire, Mastodon, Deftones, and Stoned Jesus.

If you’re going to tune down to Drop C, however, you will want to ensure that you have the correct strings. With lower tunings like Drop C and C Standard, there’s less tension acting on the strings, so you need to use thicker strings than you would with standard tuning and Drop D tuning.

My personal favorite strings for Drop C tuning (and lower) are D’Addario EXL117. They give your amazing tension and they hold up great, even if you thrash the crap outta them. If you’re playing metal, sludge, or doom, you’ll want to ensure you have the correct strings. And after 20+ years of playing, the D’Addario EXL117 are the ones I use most.

Should You Learn In Drop D?

There’s an endless debate that says ALL new guitarists should learn in standard tuning, not alternate tunings like Drop D and Drop C. I’m inclined to agree that new players should cut their teeth with standard tuning first because this will allow you to get a proper grasp of how the guitar and its fretboard works.

With standard tuning, you’re learning the guitar as it was designed to be played. Once you have a grounding in standard tuning, like, you know your scales, you can find notes everywhere on the fretboard, sure, have a play around with drop tunings. Just don’t think that tunings like Drop D and Drop C is a shortcut to better playing because they are not.

Learning in standard tuning will make you a better player too. Having to deal with barre chords and two or three-finger power chords forces your muscles to adapt and learn patterns and shapes. Once you have these dialed in, they come in really handy later when you’re using drop tunings like Drop D and Drop C.

Most musical theory, at least on guitar, is focused on the guitar being set up with standard tuning. Things like the CAGED system are done with standard tuning in mind. You’ll also be able to understand and play different types of scales with your guitar in standard tuning. For this reason, I would ALWAYS advise new guitarists to learn in standard.

As for whether it is easier to learn on an electric guitar versus and acoustic, this isn’t too important. An acoustic guitar is harder to play for obvious reasons but I don’t have any issues with new players learning solely on an electric guitar. In fact, if you want to play rock and metal it is probably advantageous to learn on an electric from day one.

Just don’t go breaking the bank with your first guitar; there are tons of brilliant, affordable electric guitars available that are perfect for beginner guitarists. My current favorite would have to be the Squier Bullet Stratocaster with HSS pickups – it’s an absolute monster for the money.

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Squier Bullet Stratocaster HSS
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This is the latest addition to the Squier Bullet family. It features everything a beginner player needs with the addition of a humbucker bridge pickup alongside two single-coil Stratocaster pickups which make it an ideal choice for anyone that wants to play hard rock and metal. 

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And don’t go thinking that you NEED to tune down to sound heavy. This just isn’t true. Plenty of bands use standard tuning and sound heavy as heck. 99% of OPETH – both old and new – is in standard tuning. The Dillinger Escape Plan is all in standard. And most of Metallica’s back catalog is in standard tuning too. Ditto Black Sabbath.

Bottom line? Learn in standard until you understand how the fretboard works, where all the notes are, and how to quickly switch between different modes and scales. Once you’ve got ALL that down, switching to a Drop tuning like Drop D becomes more of a tool than anything else, a way of creating a different tone or a different “feel” – it is no longer an arbitrary thing, it is now a useful tool that you fully understand and can use to augment your playing.

Richard

Richard has been playing guitar for over a decade and is a huge fan of metal, doom, sludge, and rock music in general – though mostly metal. Having played in bands and worked in studios since the early 2000s, Richard is a massive music production geek, a fan of minimalist recording techniques, and he really likes old-school guitars.

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